Student stays in school, with help from teacher

ITE student Muhammad Firdaus Razali (left) with his mechanical engineering lecturer, Mr Khalid Kassim, who helped him stay in school despite his financial problems. Since last year, he has given Mr Firdaus close to $900 out of his own pocket, to help
ITE student Muhammad Firdaus Razali (left) with his mechanical engineering lecturer, Mr Khalid Kassim, who helped him stay in school despite his financial problems. Since last year, he has given Mr Firdaus close to $900 out of his own pocket, to help him with food and transport costs.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Barely two months after starting at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East last year, Mr Muhammad Firdaus Razali, 20, had trouble attending classes regularly.

Even though his school fees were covered by bursaries, the mechanical engineering (Nitec) student could not afford to pay for daily expenses, such as food and transport.

His father is a cleaner and his mother works as a part-time caterer.

The first time Mr Firdaus did not attend school was two days in February last year, when he could not afford to top up his ez-link card.

Then he missed classes again for longer two-week periods, from March to September last year.

But his absences did not go unnoticed. His class adviser and course lecturer Khalid Kassim, 54, visited his home and met his family.

Since last year, he has also given Mr Firdaus close to $900 out of his own pocket, to help him with food and transport costs.

Mr Khalid, who has been at ITE for more than 30 years, also persuaded him to stay in school.

Said Mr Firdaus: "I really wanted to give up and quit school in July last year but I'm very thankful Mr Khalid pushed me and helped me so much, so I wanted to prove to him I could do it.

"I also like my course because I like to fix things like motorbike engines and pipes in the house."

Mr Firdaus, who has two older siblings and a younger brother, is on the Community Development Council and Citizens' Consultative Committee-ITE bursary, and also received $900 this year from ITE under its Special Student Assistance Scheme. The scheme helps students like Mr Firdaus tide over short-term difficulties, so that they do not miss school.

But this year has been another trying one. He found out in March that his mother had been diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer. This was followed by the deaths of his mother's three siblings, also from cancer.

But Mr Firdaus is determined to work even harder to pursue his dream of getting into a polytechnic. "I hope I can do Higher Nitec next year," he said.

"If I have some pocket money, I'll try to go to polytechnic after that, and get a diploma so that I can help my family."

Said Mr Khalid: "It's a waste if he can't finish his studies because of a lack of finances. He's a good student and he wants to learn."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Student stays in school, with help from teacher'. Print Edition | Subscribe